It’s that time of year again. Time to buy school supplies or dorm room décor and prepare your child to head back to school. Whether it’s your child’s first day of preschool or the first day of middle school, a new school year brings with it a whole host of emotions. It can be a stressful and exciting time for kids and parents. Here are my best mindful parenting tips to help your child transition into the new school year:
#1. Validate Their Emotions
New experiences, new classrooms, new beginnings, and new surroundings can evoke a variety of strong emotions. What is important is to give your child time and the opportunity to express those feelings and to welcome them without judging them. Many of these feelings are not pleasant, so kids (and parents) try to ignore them or suppress them to avoid the unpleasantness of feeling them. Resist the temptation to make everything better by trying to minimize what your child is feeling or to make those feelings go away. Remember that they do feel what they feel, so let them feel it. Emotions are information and meant to be felt. The only way to learn to manage them is to recognize them and allow them to simply be felt.
Kids may also feel embarrassed by, ashamed of, or alone in their feelings. But suppressing feelings or denying them does not make them go away. Instead, those strategies often lead to kids thinking their feelings are “bad” or abnormal. The best thing we can do as parents is encourage our children to share their feelings, validate what they feel by acknowledging them and give them time and support to feel them fully.
#2. Normalize What They are Feeling
Be sure to tell your child that nervousness, fear, and stress, among many other feelings they may be feeling this time of year, are normal. Kids often feel alone or different because “everyone else” looks like they are fine while they are feeling scared and nervous. Remind your child that the other kids are feeling the same way too, even if they don’t look it. Normalizing what they are feeling will lessen the weight of those difficult emotions and eliminate their added burden of thinking they shouldn’t feel this way.
Tell them a story about your first day of school and how you too were feeling nervous, shy or scared. This will help them recognize that it is OK and normal to feel what they are feeling. By learning to recognize and sit with their emotions as they come and go, they are developing an incredibly valuable, life-long skill of understanding and being with whatever emotions arise, instead of feeling overwhelmed by them.
#3. Focus on the Positive
Let your child know that they can do this! Take time to focus on your child’s strengths and all of the positive aspects of starting a new school year, like learning new things, creating new friendships, meeting new teachers, and enjoying fun new routines and activities. Know what excites your child and remind them about all the good stuff to come. This will help them focus on the positive too.
#4. Be Present
Most stress and anxiety come from worrying about what might happen in the future. Help your child reduce their stress and anxiety by learning to focus instead on what they are doing now. Help them recognize that all of those “what if ______” thoughts are: (1) not happening right now; (2) may never happen; and (3) not helpful. One of my favorite mantras that is particularly helpful is: Thoughts are just thoughts; you don’t have to believe them. Your child can learn to see these thoughts and then redirect their attention to what they are doing now. This is a great brain training exercise in mindful awareness that will reduce their excessive rumination and anxiety about future events. It’s never too early to learn to be more present and calm!
#5. Be Prepared
One worry that is quite common is the fear of not being prepared. You can help eliminate this worry by helping your child prepare for what lies ahead. Go to the store and help them pick out their new school supplies. Then, help them organize them. Go over their schedules so they can become familiar with their new routine. Do what you can to help them feel prepared. This will help them feel more in control and ready for the start of school.
#6. Slow Down and Breathe
The start of a new school year can be a busy, stressful and exciting time for parents and children. Remember that your fears and anxieties can be felt by your children, so be sure to take some time to slow down and breathe deeply yourself (and teach your child to do the same). Remind yourself that your child will be OK and then channel calm, positivity, and love to your child as they make this transition into the new school year. Parenting is an endless series of letting go, and the start of a new school year is another opportunity to practice taking a deep breath, opening your heart and being the supportive, grounded, and calm influence that your child needs right now as they gain independence.
Deep inhale. Deep exhale.